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The upside of deploying WAN optimization controller during a depressed economy, but with one caveat

One downside to the many benefits of WOCs

Wide Area Networking Alert By Steve Taylor and Jim Metzler, Network World
February 03, 2009 12:04 AM ET
Jim Metzler
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Insightful analysis by consultants Steve Taylor and Jim Metzler, plus links to the latest WAN news headlines

In this short series of newsletters discussing how the economy will impact IT organizations in 2009, we've discussed renegotiating WAN service contracts - in essence paying less for the WAN services that you use. Today we'll discuss WAN optimization - getting more value out of the WAN services that you use.

One of the primary ways that an IT organization optimizes their WAN is by deploying WAN Optimization Controllers (WOC). Based on our research, roughly a third of IT organizations have already deployed WOCs, although most have done so in a very limited, tactical fashion. In the vast majority of cases, IT organizations that have deployed WOCs have deployed an appliance in the branch office and another in the data center. Some IT organizations, however, have chosen to deploy what is often referred to as a soft WOC, which refers to running the WOC software not on a purpose built appliance, but on a standard PC or server.

WOCs can provide a number of benefits. For example, a WOC can spoof a chatty protocol. While this typically does not reduce the cost of the WAN, it does cause the application to run better. The cost savings associated with deploying WOCs stem from the fact that WOCs implement technologies such as caching, compression and deduplication that significantly reduce how much data transits the WAN. In the best of cases, deploying WOCs allows an IT organization to reduce the size, and hence the cost of their WAN links. More likely, deploying WOCs allows IT organizations to forestall increasing the size, and hence the cost of their WAN links.

According to our market research, roughly a third of IT organizations will either deploy WOCs for the first time in 2009 or increase their current deployment of WOCs. This increase in WOC deployment is driven in large part by the fact that a number of initiatives (i.e., the deployment of more video and telepresence, data center consolidation, the deployment of rich media based applications) are causing the volume of traffic that transits the enterprise WAN to increase rapidly. Hence, deploying WOCs as a way to avoid large increases in the cost of the WAN makes sense. If the WOCs also enable key applications to run better, that is a double win for the IT organization.

Unfortunately, IT organizations cannot just deploy WOCs and be successful. Also, WOCs tend to use a proprietary signaling protocol and as a result, once an IT organization deploys WOCs they lose all visibility of the traffic. As tempting as it is to deploy WOCs as a way to manage the WAN budget, IT organizations should think twice about doing that if it means they lose visibility into what is happening on their network.

In our next and final newsletter on the topic of how the challenging economic times will impact the IT organization, we'll discuss the use of managed service providers. In the meantime, we would like to hear from you. What type of IT initiatives will be getting the most attention inside of your organization in 2009?

Read more about lans & wans in Network World's LANs & WANs section.

Steve Taylor is president of Distributed Networking Associates and publisher/editor-in-chief of Webtorials. Jim Metzler is vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates.

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